Pierre Imai, Head of Research & Innovation, Rakuten Mobile

After successfully disrupting the MVNO market, Rakuten Mobile is going to shake up the MNO business as the fourth major carrier in Japan from October 2019. With the launch of the first end-to-end fully-virtualized cloud-native mobile phone network, Rakuten Mobile aims to be one of – if not the – technologically most advanced telecommunication providers in the world.

We believe that the demands of our customers for more flexible, reliable, and powerful services at low cost can only be met by reducing the burden that the network’s operation places on our engineers’ shoulders. Instead of hunting down bugs, fixing problems, and completing menial tasks, we want our engineers to work on innovating new services and technologies – and hand off the mundane tasks to an artificial engineer.

With this end goal in mind, I’m very excited to announce that we are creating the new Autonomous Networking Research & Innovation Department within Rakuten Mobile. Our explicit purpose is to make a truly autonomous network a reality. By building up a leading team of world-class researchers and through close collaboration with leading research institutions both in academia and the industry, we aim to revolutionize the existing telecommunications environment.

Our vision is to become the research laboratory that made a practical and truly autonomous network for telecommunications a reality. Ideally, we will aim to achieve a network that requires no human intervention. More realistically, we intend to build a resilient and self-healing network that can be configured and operate with minimal human intervention. Full automation of normal operations is within engineering reach already. However, turning the network into a system that can deal with unforeseen events, adapt to changes, and even fix itself in case of previously unanticipated problems, requires close-to-human debugging and reasoning skills.

“Instead of hunting down bugs, fixing problems, and completing menial tasks, we want our engineers to work on innovating new services and technologies – and hand off the mundane tasks to an artificial engineer.”

The goal that we set ourselves is to devise an artificial engineer, who constantly and continuously monitors the network environment, detects problems or performance issues, comes up with a plan how to fix them, realizes this plan within the network, evaluates the outcome, and re-iterates this process until the results are satisfactory — and at the same time learns from its failures. Our research pertains not only to the traditional networking and telecommunications world, but encompasses a wide area of initially seemingly unrelated research such as artificial intelligence and even cybernetics or learning theory — after all, the above-mentioned skills are part of the classic cognitive control loop which is at the core of every learning entity.

The closer we get to recreating the abilities of a human engineer within the system, the lower the operational burden on engineers — and the more interesting and challenging the job will become.

We are hiring senior researchers with a strong research background who are interested in realizing the dream of a fully autonomous network.

As we look to hire new colleagues who share our passion for pushing the boundaries of technological innovation, we are looking for research experience in autonomous networking and related fields, as well as knowledge in distributed systems, networking protocols, telecommunications, and machine learning.

“The closer we get to recreating the abilities of a human engineer within the system, the lower the operational burden on engineers — and the more interesting and challenging the job will become.”

We are also looking for academic and industrial partners who share our vision and who are willing to collaborate with us in an open and mutually beneficial research environment. Our position within Rakuten Mobile gives us the unique opportunity to provide access to our highly practical data and production network to our partners for research purposes – the only constraints we will impose are those needed to protect the privacy and security of our customers, which is Rakuten Mobile’s top priority.

We are looking forward to a fruitful collaboration with the global research community, one from which not just Rakuten Mobile will benefit, but also our partners, our customers, and even society as a whole.


About the author: Dr. Pierre Imai is Head of the Research & Innovation Department at Rakuten Mobile and has been working for the Rakuten Institute of Technology as Principal Scientist since 2016. His research and work experience includes the fields of networking & telecommunications, self-optimizing & autonomous systems, internet-scale distributed systems, artificial intelligence & machine learning, and robotics. Before joining Rakuten, he was improving the content distribution and active network monitoring systems down to network protocol level at Google, working on future internet and telecommunications research at NEC Labs Europe, and participated in multiple EU and national research projects such as ANA and Onelab. He is especially interested in building systems that can learn and improve themselves, for example, a network stack that autonomously re-composes and re-configures itself to reach close-to-optimal performance based on the current state of the network and traffic — as he did for his PhD, on a research grant from the Swiss National Fund.